Kate Davis’ ‘Fish Bowl’ Is a Deceptively Pretty but Actually Very Bonkers Alt-Rock Odyssey: Album Review

Kate Davis is a recovering jazz prodigy whose sweet voice and melodic alt-rock masks just how darkly bonkers some of her lyrics are: This album starts with the words, “I wanted more than being left for dead in bed at the midnight hour/ One chained ankle stands in my way.” Despite the alarming subtext, the song’s title, “Monster Mash,” suggests that she’s writing from the perspective of a literal monster (… kind of, but more on that in a moment).

“Fish Bowl” is the Portland, OR-reared singer-songwriter’s second full-length (not including “Strange Boy,” her 2021 collection of Daniel Johnston covers) and is much more assured and fully realized than her 2019 debut, “Trophy.” Guitar-driven and big on bittersweet melodies, it sonically recalls ‘90s artists like Belly and Liz Phair as well as more contemporary ones like Sharon Van Etten and Lucy Dacus, and is the kind of album you’ll be nodding along with and then suddenly focus on “Wait, what?” lyrics like “I feel like a crummy pie, a shriveled fucked french fry/ Cold in the bottom of the bag“ and “I’m just going through the motions of one big self-sabotaging empty bitch.” And then there’s this sequence: “Scooby Doo was a pup who never could get enough mystery/ It’s the same goddamn thing for me… Jesus was a punk who never could get enough mercy/ It’s the same goddamn thing for me.” And “Long Long Long“ is not a George Harrison cover but instead includes references to Barenaked Ladies and Kylie Minogue.

According to the bio, it all adds up to a rather complex storyline: “Crafted with Greek epics and Joseph Campbell’s ‘A Hero’s Journey’ in mind (while also being aware of the inherent sexism within his theories), Davis traces her own hero’s journey across ‘Fish Bowl’’s 12 deeply personal tracks,” it states, “from the moment she steps away from her old life to the moment she finds inner peace. She follows these steps through the eyes of the album’s central character, FiBo, who starts out on opening track ‘Monster Mash’ realizing the community she cultivated has turned on her and starts to seek real change.” Davis adds, “It’s about a very peculiar kind of heartbreak and betrayal where you’re at the mercy of your ‘other.’”

Of course, all of that would be a lot less interesting if the music weren’t so compelling. There’s nary a moment on the album that could be considered jazz, but Davis‘ training (she plays most of the instruments on the album) comes through in the sophisticated songcraft and arrangements, as well as the layered backing vocals, which are credited to a certain “June Doom“ but certainly sound like a multi-overdubbed Davis.

Melodically memorable and twisted in unique and alluring ways, “Fish Bowl” marks Kate Davis’ true arrival.

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